There’ll be a host of fresh faces at Downton Abbey when the show comes back to the UK’s ITV later this year. Details are slight for the moment, but I’ve confirmed Ed Speleers has joined the cast as new footman Jimmy. Speleers, known for 2006′s dragon adventure Eragon, will next be seen with Timothy Spall and Jessica Szohr in the horror comedy Love Bite. Other recent staffers to join the Grantham estate include War Horse‘s Matt Milne as Alfred, a footman who’s also the nephew of is-she-or-isn’t-she-evil lady’s maid O’Brien. Newcomers Cara Theobold and Lucille Sharp are also on board as maids. In January, Shirley MacLaine signed on to play mother to Elizabeth McGovern’s Cora Grantham — and a foil for Maggie Smith’s irrepressible Dowager Countess.
Regarding the contract status of Smith and Dan Stevens (who plays Matthew Crawley on the series), the official line is that seasons 4 and 5 have not been addressed, nor ordered, nor written. (I’ve also heard that Dame Maggie isn’t in the habit of signing contracts until the last minute anyway.) Still, some cast members including McGovern, Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery are said to have signed for those seasons, according to our pals at TVLine. In response to the contract reports, the show released a statement: “We are currently filming series three of Downton Abbey in which all the cast have returned. ITV have not yet commissioned a fourth and fifth series which, if they happen, would be a long way off.” No kidding: Season 3 doesn’t start airing in the U.S. until January 2013.